Being injured sucks, especially for anyone who loves being active, or is working towards a goal. It’s never fun to be sidelined or in pain. Unfortunately, being active often comes with an injury from time to time.
An athlete’s hope is to always stay injury-free during their season, or if an injury happens, that it’s minor with a quick recovery. It’s not surprising that over the last few years I’ve dealt with a handful of aches, pains, and even some injuries. Irritated tendons in my knee, forearm strains, and shin splints from an increase in work load and intensity.
Because injuries happen so often among the avid exerciser, I thought I would talk about them a little bit.
Chronic vs. Acute
There are two main types of injuries – chronic and acute. Chronic injuries are those which build over time, usually from over-use or repetitive movements (think of shin splints or stress fractures in runners). On the other hand, acute injuries happen from a specific incident (such as breaking a bone or spraining your wrist) – you know exactly what caused it and when it happened.
So many different treatment options exist for injuries – do you call a physiotherapist, a chiropractor, your regular doctor, or do you just self-manage it with home remedies? It should depend on the type of injury, the severity of it, and sadly, your health coverage – hey, not everyone can afford a lot of regulated health care!
I’ve seen a physiotherapist for any acute injuries which have happened from sports or exercise – spraining my ankle in Step (this was awful, I can still hear the “pop” when I think about it), IT band syndrome when I was running a lot, etc. Finding a great physio who appreciates your desire to get back to action is a huge bonus. They can treat the injury to bring inflammation down, stimulate blood flow for recovery, help you slowly strengthen the affected muscles, and tape you up for added support.
Chiropractors can do some of the same treatments for inflammation and blood flow, and they can work to re-align everything to get it moving in the right pattern again. This can be done through adjustments or active release therapy. Some chiros will also do acupuncture, which I’ve always gotten pretty good results from – don’t fear the needles, you can barely feel them (just look away if you need to).
Self-management can include your basic RICE principles – rest, ice, compression, elevation. I’m a big fan of icing injuries, and also alternating ice and heat. In some cases, I’ll also include a basic over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drug such as ibuprofen (Advil), or naproxen (Aleve). Just be careful to follow the directions so you don’t take too many in a day, and you don’t want to stay on these for too long.
Personally, I use a variety of treatment options, depending on what I’m dealing with and just how bad it is. Currently, I’m nursing a few minor (but annoying) injuries – an inflamed pec minor / bicep muscle and shin splints. The chest injury is definitely a bigger concern for me right now as it gets aggravated by training, especially any pushing exercise which places my arm at a certain angle. As a small bonus, knowing what I do about biomechanics and training, I’ve found ways to work around this while still getting in the work I need. Is this ideal? Probably not, but at this point, it’s the best compromise I can find. Pair this with seeing a chiropractor, treating it at home with ice and heat, and stretching it out, I’m doing my best to take care of it while still doing what I need to do.
The shin splint is a little easier to deal with as it only bothers me after teaching Step class, and when I’m doing some leg training until I’m fully warmed up (*importance of warming up!). I treat this at home by icing it and stretching A LOT. Step has given me really tight calves and feet, so I need to pay more attention and stretch everything out really well, especially after teaching. I also use a lacrosse ball to roll out my feet, and a foam roller on my legs.
I’m also using some anti-inflammatories at the moment, just once a day prior to training and it’s seemed to help a fair amount. Keep in mind that this can be a “blanket” treatment. Just because it takes the pain away doesn’t mean the problem is actually resolved. You should still deal with the injury itself before it gets worse.
Massage is another treatment I’m a huge advocate for. However, this is not your ritzy spa, relaxation massage. I’ve found a therapist who knows what I do and works HARD to break down all the built up tissue. It is not enjoyable, other than the fact of knowing it’s helping me recover. They’re great at finding those knots and working them out for you. If you want to go for a relaxation massage, it’s still helpful with blood flow, stimulation, and a little bit of muscle relaxation.
The best advice when you’re injured is to allow the injury to recover by resting it. Usually, all you need is time off to allow the inflammation to subside and then gradually ease back into your activity (so you don’t instigate the same problem right away). If you’re unsure of who to contact about an injury, your family doctor should be able to direct you to the right practioner. This only skims the surface of treatment options out there, but these are the ones I commonly call on – and I’ve had my fair share of injuries over my athletic years.